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Bigotry and Hypocrisy on the Alaskan Frontier: “Tisha, The Wonderful True Love Story of a Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness”

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Festival Music Stage in Chicken, Alaska via Flickr/JLS Photography – Alaska, May, 2015

It Seems People Can Always Find a Way to Divide Themselves

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for books about teachers.  Most of the time, the narrative is pretty similar: a young woman chooses to leave home and go somewhere completely different from her home, usually somewhere remote.  Usually the woman is at or near the beginning of her teaching career, so she has to figure out how to do her job and contend with the locals, whose ideas are usually much different from hers. 

I suppose it’s one of the few socially acceptable ways that women could leave their homes on their own without getting married.   

For some people, it’s a temporary stage of life, and for some people, the move becomes permanent. 

At first glance, Tisha appears to follow that trajectory, but really this book is more about ethnic prejudice than education.  First of all, Ann Hobbs Purdy is a young teacher (or “tisha”, as the children call her), but she has enough experience to know what she’s doing, and the school is very small: technically, they don’t even have the minimum number, which is 10.   

The issues that give Ann trouble revolve around her acceptance of the local native population: first, she admits some to school, then she starts dating a local biracial man, and eventually she takes some biracial children into her home. 

When the locals balk, she tells them that her grandmother was a member of the Kentuck native nation, but since she doesn’t look like a native, and of course she’s the teacher, her neighbors choose to ignore this information. The whole thing, of course, reveals just how irrational prejudice is. 

The events in this book, which happened nearly 100 years ago, show the absurdity of ethnic prejudice and the use of the word “race”, issues that we are still fighting about in 2021.

Tisha is a relatively short, engaging read that shares the reality of racial prejudice on the Alaskan frontier. In large part it’s a love story, but there is a surprising amount of adventure too. Surviving in the wilds of Alaska was no joke, even for a teacher in a “town.”

The Real Ann Hobbs Purdy

Tisha was written by a ghostwriter, but Ann Hobbs Purdy did publish some articles during her live and also a novella based on a fellow teacher she knew in Alaska called Dark Boundary.

Reader Recommendation

Thank you to Dianne Bourg, reader of The Lois Level, for suggesting I Heard the Owl Call My Name, about a vicar who comes to a remote mythical village in the Pacific Northwest.

More Great Reads

For more great books about teachers, check out 6 Favorite Books About Wonderful Teachers

Visiting Chicken, Alaska

Chicken, Alaska is the setting for this book, and amazingly, people still mine gold there! Because of Tisha and the popular reality show, Gold Rush!, Chicken is also a quirky tourist destination.

Even more astounding, the school and “teacherage” where Ann Hobbs Purdy lived and work is still standing, along with most of the other structures described in the book and is now a designated historic area.

You can read more about it in this article from The Atlantic: The Alaskan Town Where People Still Pan for Gold and check out this travel video below.

A Virtual Visit to Chicken, Alaska, Showing Sights from Tisha

2 thoughts on “Bigotry and Hypocrisy on the Alaskan Frontier: “Tisha, The Wonderful True Love Story of a Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness””

  1. Have you read “I Heard the Owl Call My Name?” The description of “Tisha” made me think of it.

    1. I haven’t read it, but I think I will try to at some point after reading the description on Amazon. I believe I always thought it was a nature story because of the title, but yes, it does sound like it has similar themes! Thank you for the suggestion; I’ll add it to the post!

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